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Controllers prepare for spacecraft's rendezvous with protoplanet Ceres
by Staff Writers
Pasadena, Calif. (UPI) Dec 4, 2013


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

NASA scientists say they've finalized flight plans for the Dawn spacecraft when it arrives at the dwarf planet Ceres in late March 2015.

Mission managers have finished creating a schedule of scientific operations for Dawn, which has been cruising toward Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, since September 2012, when it departed its first cosmic target, the asteroid Vesta.

Ceres could present an icy, even possible watery counterpoint to the dry Vesta, where Dawn spent almost 14 months orbiting and gathering data.

Vesta and Ceres are two of the largest surviving protoplanets -- cosmic bodies that almost became planets -- and will give provide clues about the planet-forming conditions at the dawn of our solar system, NASA said Wednesday.

"Our flight plan around Ceres will be choreographed to be very similar to the strategy that we successfully used around Vesta," said Bob Mase, Dawn's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "This approach will build on that and enable scientists to make direct comparisons between these two giants of the asteroid belt."

Dawn will make its first full characterization of Ceres from a distance of about 8,400 miles above its icy surface, NASA said, then will enter ever-closer orbits as it gathers additional data.

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IRON AND ICE
Quietly Cruising Through The Asteroid Belt
Pasadena CA (JPL) Dec 06, 2013
Gliding smoothly through the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Dawn continues to make good progress on its ambitious mission of exploration. It is patiently but persistently pursuing Ceres, the second destination on its interplanetary itinerary. Protoplanets Ceres and Vesta, the two most massive residents of the asteroid belt, were discovered at the beginning of the 19th century ... read more


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